Andrew Cuomo says Trump administration's inaction will decide who dies
By Audrey McNamara
/ CBS News
During an impassioned press briefing on Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state's efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus have not worked, and instead the virus is "accelerating on its own." Cuomo made a plea for more ventilators in the state, saying thousands more are needed than the federal government has offered to send.
According to Cuomo, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, agreed to send 400 ventilators to New York — a fraction of what is needed.
"What am I going to do with 400 ventilators? When I need 30,000," Cuomo said. "You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators."
The governor said the federal government's offering misses the magnitude of a problem that is "defined by its magnitude."
During an interview with Fox News later on Tuesday, President Trump responded to Cuomo's criticism, saying the governor should have ordered the ventilators himself, five years ago.
"We're building him hospitals, we're building him medical centers and he was complaining about — we're doing probably more, definitely more, for him than anybody else — and he was talking about the ventilators, but he should have ordered the ventilators," Mr. Trump said. "And he had a choice, he had a chance."
The president then produced an unidentified piece of paper and appeared to read aloud: "New York Governor Cuomo rejected buying recommended 16,000 ventilators in 2015 for the pandemic — for a pandemic — established death panels and lotteries instead."
"So he had a chance to buy, in 2015, 16,000 ventilators at a very low price and he turned it down," Mr. Trump said. "I'm not blaming him or anything else, but he shouldn't be talking about us. He's supposed to be buying his own ventilators."
The rate of new coronavirus cases in New York has doubled about every three days, according to Cuomo. The increase has outpaced prior projections of how much medical supplies will be needed during the outbreak's apex, or peak.
Cuomo said the state originally thought it would need 110,000 hospital beds — more than double its current capacity — but now expects it will need an additional 30,000.
"The new projection suggests that the number of hospital beds needed could be as high as 140,000 hospital beds," Cuomo said.
Additionally, the state needs about 40,000 intensive care unit, or ICU, beds, he said, of which there are now only around 3,000.
"Those are troubling and astronomical numbers, and as I mentioned are higher numbers than had previously been projected," Cuomo said.
To meet these needs, Cuomo said hospitals must increase their capacity by 50%, with a goal to increase it by 100%. The governor said he is speaking with hotel owners about converting unused hotel beds into hospital beds.
"I will turn this state upside down to get the number of beds that we need."
Cuomo, however, said that New York's "greatest critical need" right now is ventilators, a supply that can only be replenished with federal help.
The governor pleaded with Mr. Trump to use the Defense Production Act — a law that allows the president to require companies to sign contracts or fill orders for products needed for the nation's defense — in order to rapidly manufacture more ventilators.
Despite scouring for ventilator producers, Cuomo said the state has only been able procure about 7,000 of the technical devices, but needs an additional 30,000 "at a minimum."
"There is no other way for us to get these ventilators. We've tried everything else. The only way we can obtain these ventilators is from the federal government. Period," Cuomo said.
The governor said he understands that major automakers have volunteered to shift some of production to making ventilators, but warned that their output would not be fast enough.
"It does us no good if they start to create a ventilator in three weeks, or four weeks, or five weeks. We're looking at an apex of 14 days, if we don't have the ventilators in 14 days it does us no good," he said.
"Only the federal government has that power, and not to exercise that power is inexplicable to me… It's nice that these companies are coming forward and saying they want to help — that is not going to get us there," he said. "I do not for the life of me understand the reluctance to use the federal Defense Production Act."
New York currently has 25,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus — 10 times the cases as in California, according to Cuomo. He warned that New York will not be the only state to face such an onslaught, it is simply the "canary in the coal mine."
"It's higher in New York because it started here first, because we have global travelers coming here first, because we have more density than most places," Cuomo said. "But you will see this in cities all across the country, and you will see this in suburban communities all across the country. We are just a test case."
He urged the federal government to prioritize states in order of their need. If enough ventilators are sent to New York to combat its fast-approaching apex, Cuomo said he would personally deploy the devices to other states when their apexes follow.
"Where we are today you will be in three weeks or four weeks or five weeks or six weeks. We are your future," Cuomo said.
First published on March 24, 2020 / 4:26 PM
© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.